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Cool off at the CapeCool off at the Cape

Cape May, New JerseyCape May, New Jersey

Cape May’s cool breezes have attracted summertime vacationers since the 1700s. They arrived by horse-drawn carriage, but you can fly right in for airport dining and a fine aviation museum. Pristine beaches, beautiful Victorian “gingerbread” homes, wine tasting, good food, and fun boating make this a perfect warm-weather getaway.

  • Ah, the good life, in beautiful Cape May! Mild summer breezes and wide sandy beaches make Cape May a perfect summer escape. Photo courtesy Queen Victoria B&B.
  • There’s plenty of parking around the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum—cars on one side, airplanes on the other side. Photo courtesy Wikipedia.
  • The beautiful TBM Avenger is a highlight of the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum. This particular aircraft has the rare distinction of being listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo courtesy NAS Wildwood Aviation Museum.
  • What they fought for: A scene like this is the kind of image many young U.S. Navy aviators kept in the backs of their minds as they prepared for battle in the Pacific theater during World War II. Photo courtesy NAS Wildwood Aviation Museum.
  • Cape May Diamonds are quartz pebbles found on the beaches of Cape May, most commonly at the Sunset or Higbee beaches. The pebbles are sometimes collected, cut, and polished to resemble diamonds, then sold locally as souvenirs. Photo by Clark Perks.
  • Cape Kayaks rents kayaks, surf kayaks, and stand-up paddleboards—cute girls not included! Daytime or full moon kayak tours take you through the salt marsh, where a naturalist will point out indigenous and migrating wildlife. Photo courtesy Cape Kayaks.
  • Climb aboard the 110-foot "Cape May Whale Watcher" for a three-hour whale-and-dolphin-watching tour, sunset dolphin tour, or prime rib dinner cruise. They also have boat and kayak rentals and tours, fishing, and bird-watching tours. Photo courtesy Cape May Whale Watcher.
  • A visit to Cape May's Emlen Physick Estate (Cape May's only Victorian house museum) offers a look back at the Victorian past as evidenced by its architecture, decorative arts, customs, and the lives of one Cape May family, the Physicks. The grounds of the Estate have been restored and landscaped to reflect the original design, including the oval flower bed and formal plantings typical of the Victorian era. Photo courtesy MAC.
  • Hop on one of MAC's cheery red trolleys for a guided tour the easy way. Knowledgeable guides will tell you everything you want to know about America's first seaside resort, from its Victorian heritage to its seashore and maritime history and more, with plenty of fun facts sprinkled in. A variety of tours are available, including some especially geared for kids, and themed tours for holidays and special events. Photo courtesy MAC.
  • At the Cape May Winery you can relax with a flight of wines out on the deck bar or inside the tasting room. Photo courtesy Cape May Winery and Vineyard.
  • From the Victorian “gingerbread” homes to the wide beaches and the lighthouse, Cape May provides numerous beautiful subjects for plein-air painting. Bring your easel and paint your own souvenir of your trip! Photo courtesy CapeMay.com.
  • The Union Park Dining Room’s char-grilled filet mignon comes with Point Reyes blue cheese, bourbon onions, haricots verts, and mashed Yukons. Photo courtesy Union Park Dining Room.
  • In the heart of Cape May, just a block from the beach, the Queen Victoria B&B offers 35 rooms and suites in four buildings: The Queen Victoria, House of Royals, Queen’s Cottage, and Prince Albert Hall. Raid the pantry any time for complimentary beverages, ice, hot chocolate, tea, or coffee, and relax on a porch or in the parlor beside the fire. Photo courtesy Queen Victoria B&B.
  • Each room and suite at the Queen Victoria B&B blends modern comforts and period antiques, with special attention to the benefit of a great night’s sleep. Bedding consists of 400-thread-count cotton sheets, topped with premium quilts or mataliesse comforters. All rooms and suites are non-smoking, have Wi-Fi and a private bath, TV with DVD player, mini-refrigerator, hair dryer, clock radio, iron and board, and air conditioning. Larger premium rooms and suites feature luxury baths with relaxing whirlpool tubs; some have a gas-log fireplace. Photo courtesy Queen Victoria B&B.
  • Savor a generous breakfast, served buffet-style. Afternoon tea in the British fashion (with decadent sweets and savories!) is served on the porches or in front of a glowing fireplace. Photo courtesy Queen Victoria B&B.

Cape May County Airport lies near the southern tip of New Jersey, on a seven-nautical-mile-wide stretch of land separating the Delaware Bay from the Atlantic Ocean. Arrivals from the north should note the Class B Philadelphia International and Class C Atlantic City airports. Unless you have completed the FAA's DC Special Flight Rules Area online course, arrivals from the east and south should take care to avoid the Washington, D.C., SFRA, that airspace up to FL 180 and within a 30-nm radius of the DCA VOR-DME. The Class D Dover Air Force Base lies 27 nm northwest of Cape May; use caution over Delaware Bay for inbound massive C–5 Galaxy or C–17 Globemaster III aircraft. VFR flight following or an IFR flight plan is highly recommended.

On the field, FlightLevel Aviation has rental cars, and, if you're hungry, the Flight Deck Diner is a popular breakfast and lunch spot with convenient aircraft parking. Then head over to historic Hangar No. 1, home to the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum. Today's pilots may not realize that this airport was originally constructed by the U.S. Navy in 1941 and 1942. NASW served as an active dive-bomber squadron training facility, and the museum honors that heritage with a beautiful TBM Avenger, a dive-bomber widely employed in the Pacific theater during World War II, and many more aircraft. Bring the kids and travel through time in this 92,000-square-foot sampling of the 1940s and far beyond. Friendly, leashed pets are welcome.

The Cape May Winery hosts Summer Grill Nights every Wednesday from late June to early September. The popular Lobster Bake happens one evening in August. Photo courtesy Cape May Winery.

If you want to hit the beach with Fido, visit Higbee Beach. Sunset Beach has great sunsets, of course—and don’t miss the 7 p.m. flag ceremony. Sunset Beach hosts the Sunset Grill and is a good place to look for Cape May Diamonds, quartz pebbles that are sometimes cut and polished to resemble diamonds, then sold locally as souvenirs. Rising above Sunset Beach is the World War II Lookout Tower, built to watch for German submarines lurking off the coast. Today, you can go inside to view displays and climb to the top for panoramic Cape views. The Point is the quiet beach where locals go. All of Cape May's city beaches are especially clean, family-friendly, close to restrooms and food, and within walking distance from most accommodations. Beach tags are required all summer; pick yours up online, at City Hall, or at any city beach entrance, about $6 a day with a discount for multiple days. Read about all the beaches to pick the one that suits you.

To get out on the water, rent a kayak, surf kayak, or stand-up paddleboard to play on your own or with a tour. Whale-and-dolphin-watching boat cruises are both informative and fun—the boat speeds up for part of the trip, so bring a jacket for wind and ocean spray. You’re guaranteed to see marine mammals, plus the Cape May Lighthouse, the Coast Guard Training center, and more.

The Friends of the Cape May Lighthouse offer Full Moon Lighthouse Climbs throughout the year. Climb to the starry top and you'll enjoy a unique view of the surrounding Cape. Photo courtesy MAC.

You can visit the lighthouse onshore, too, via the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts (MAC). MAC preserves Victorian homes and organizes area events as well as entertaining trolley and bus tours, wine trails, and food events, and tours and celebrations at the historic Emlen Physick Estate. Tour tickets can be purchased online or at the Washington Street Mall Information Booth in the center of the shopping district. You can also visit the Cape May Winery and Vineyard on your own, sample their wide selection on their lovely outdoor patio, take a winery tour, or join in for summer Grill Nights and Lobster Bakes.

With dozens of B&Bs, plus a plethora of family-friendly hotels and stately resorts, choosing a place to stay can be tough. Hotels along Beach Avenue are right across from the sand. The Hotel Macomber provides the added benefit of the onsite Union Park Dining Room, one of Cape May’s best restaurants. The Blue Pig Tavern and Ebbitt Room are likewise tucked inside hotels. The nautical-themed, pet-friendly Blue Fish Inn sits halfway between downtown and the beach, and you’ll get a free continental breakfast in summer, along with beach chairs and umbrellas. I grew up on Queen Victoria Road, so, I thought, why not stay at the Queen Victoria B&B? Check the photos to see if you agree I made the right choice. Remember Cape May for your cool summer getaway!

The Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum displays an impressive collection, from gyrocopters to recon and trainer aircraft, helicopters, and supersonic jets including my favorite, the Northrup F-5E Tiger II shown front and center. Photo courtesy NAS Wildwood Aviation Museum.

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Crista Worthy

Crista V. Worthy

Crista V. Worthy has been flying around the United States with her pilot-husband Fred and their children since 1995, and writing about fun places to fly since 2006. She has single-engine land and sea ratings. Her favorite places to explore are the backcountry strips of Idaho and Utah's red rock country. She currently lives in Idaho and serves as editor of The Flyline, the monthly publication of the Idaho Aviation Association. To suggest future destination articles, send an email to [email protected]
Topics: US Travel

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